Faculty CSL & Research/Scholarship Spotlights - College of Science & Engineering

Faculty and Student Service-Learning Highlights

The Observatory: A Hidden Gem on Campus!

by Dr. Adrienne Cool

To find hidden treasure on the SF State campus, look no further than the roof of Thornton Hall, where you will find the SFSU Observatory nestled on the roof. When the Sun goes down (and skies are clear!) doors open to the campus community and members of the public. Managed by SF State student "docents," the Observatory houses four telescopes with which visitors can view the moon, planets, stars, galaxies, and more. Weather permitting, the Observatory is open three nights per week during both the fall and spring semesters; hours vary with the time of year. Seasonal highlights range from the rings of Saturn to the stellar nursery at the heart of Orion. Come see the moon magnified 100 times, where you will see craters "up close," much like what Apollo astronauts saw an hour before they landed!

Astronomy 115 and 116. Most commonly, students become docents after taking Astronomy 301, "Observational Astronomy Laboratory." Students who become docents take on significant responsibility, operating the telescopes, choosing targets, and sharing their enthusiasm for science and their knowledge of astronomy with visitors. Every semester, the thrice-weekly Observatory Open Nights enable hundreds of students in the GE course Astronomy 116 to view astronomical objects trillions of miles away with their own eyes. Docents-in-training apprentices to experienced student docents as they learn to use the telescopes and find their way around the night sky. Once trained, docents are eligible to receive a unit of credit (Astronomy 685, "Projects in the Teaching of Astronomy") for this service to the community. Curious to find out more? Contact us!

Faculty Focus on Research

The Sierra Nevada Field Campus

ICCE, in collaboration with the College of Science & Engineering and Dept. of Recreation, Parks, & Tourism, hosted an Information Session on Nov. 7th, showcasing SF State ’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus (SNFC). Watch this 1-minute promo video! Faculty, staff, and students via coursework and research have an extraordinary opportunity for experiential learning in one of the Sierra Mountain finest field schools. One research project launched in 2017 is the Clover Valley Ranch Meadow Restoration Project. The SF State Institute for Geographic Information Science enjoys collaborating with the Sierra Fund in partnership with our Geography & Environment and Biology departments. Unique research on “geospatial data storage and documentation supporting greenhouse gas benefit monitoring” has been occurring for this important restoration project. Faculty and students involved use the university’s Field Campus as a base-camp while gaining many hands-on skills including data collection and analysis, management planning, collaboration, and outreach and education; those involved work diligently “to improve water availability, reliability, and quantity, facilitate the restoration and resilience of native and culturally relevant high elevation wet meadow vegetation assemblages, and increase habitat integrity and availability.”

The College of Science & Engineering has many other connections relating to the Field Campus. Another of many-valued research studies taking place, for example, is testing new tools to help mitigate climate change. Dr. Jerry Davis, and other researchers, recently received funding for a five-year study! Worth reading is: “SF State Team Tests Surprising New Tools Slowing Climate Change.” Keep your eye out for a feature story being published in the Spring edition of the SF State Magazine. That particular story will discuss this project, and will also go more in-depth about the Sierra Nevada Field Campus and its remarkable history. The SNFC also has a wonderful “Wish List”, have a look, and see how you can help support. For more info to bring your class or conduct research, contact J.R. Blair at jrblair@sfsu.edu, 415-405-3280.

Reflection from the ICCE Faculty Fellow

ICCE has been thrilled to work with Dr. Leticia Márquez-Magaña, professor of Cell and Molecular Biology in the College of Science & Engineering.  Dr. Márquez-Magaña is also the Director of the Health Equity Research Lab where she works collaboratively with staff on research projects aimed on "Linking Basic Science to Community Health." This work is informed by her affiliation with the Health Equity Institute at SF State since 2007, and her leadership of the SF BUILD project since 2014.  We asked Leti to provide us with a few personal/professional reflections of her experience as an ICCE Faculty Fellow, and her story follows:

My experience as the spring 2019 ICCE Faculty Fellow has taken me back to my undergraduate confusion as a STEM major absolutely committed to giving back. At that time, my commitment to giving back was fortified by Cesár Chávez’ words when he visited my campus. He told us “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community.” However, my research mentor at Stanford University told me to “keep the science pure, and free of sociopolitical implications.”  Taken together these words from two individuals I greatly admired, which I perceived at being at a cross-roads with different purposes, led to great confusion about how I could link my STEM major to direct community benefit. Unable to address this confusion, I came to a false conclusion that rigorous scientific research could not be linked to community service. Consequently, I pursued them independently well into my professorate. Over the years and in a variety of ways, especially since being an ICCE Faculty Fellow, that confusion has been resolved!

I wholeheartedly understand that rigorous scientific research can be readily linked to community service, for example, through the pursuit of real-life, community-relevant research questions. This is the understanding I aimed to share with research faculty in the College of Science and Engineering when I organized a Community Service Learning (CSL) workshop on April 2nd in honor of Cesár Chávez’ holiday. Unfortunately, it was poorly attended, and only female faculty of color came to the workshop. This result was not unexpected given that multiple studies show women and minorities pursue science for altruistic reasons more than their male, non-minority counterparts. Nonetheless, it was disappointing, necessitating that I use more strategic approaches to get the word out about CSL as a high-impact practice in STEM.


A recently completed, half-million-dollar Keck STEM Service-Learning Study across the CSU system found that incorporating service-learning in STEM increased the 6-year graduation rate for underrepresented minorities (URM). Analysis of graduation rates for the 2011 cohort found that the 6-year graduation rate for URM students enrolled in STEM courses lacking service-learning was 52% and rose to 74% when service-learning was incorporated. The 6-year graduate rates for non-URM enrolled in STEM courses with (87%) and without (86%) service-learning were higher than URM rates but were not significantly different from one another. These results support the well-known facts that service-learning is a high impact practice in the CSU, including STEM fields. Additionally, it can be concluded that its use can decrease the educational disparity found for URM and non-URM in STEM.

I know, that as a former undergraduate in STEM, I would have felt a greater sense of belonging in a STEM major that affirmed my values to give back to my communities instead of endorsing what can be considered “ivory tower” science. As an ICCE Faculty Fellow, I’ve learned a lot about, and contributed to, advancing service-learning in my college, and will continue to do so.  Furthermore, my hope is to increase that sense of belonging for STEM majors who are absolutely committed to giving back as well as educating others who may be “confused” like I was, to learn about the life-long benefits of doing this important work.


Community Engaged Research Project Evaluates Health Benefits of Exercise in Nature

SF State alum and post-baccalaureate UCSF clinical research coordinator, Edgar Velazquez, grew up in the Tenderloin and experienced first-hand the repercussions of social, economic and environmental disparities, as well as the limitations of the health care system.  This experience was frustrating, but it motivated him to do something about it. As complex as the issues were, Edgar still found a way to bring about transformational change through a community engaged research project with SF BUILD (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity), a $17 million National Institute of Health-funded project led by SF State in partnership with UCSF. Promoting Activity and Stress-Reduction in The Outdoors (PASITO, translates to “little step” in Spanish) was a community-engaged project where he and his team evaluated the health benefits of exercise in nature over a 3-month period. 

In order to achieve transformational change, they developed a strategic partnership with the Latina Center, a community-based organization in Richmond, CA, and the East Bay Regional Parks District.  They also diversified their research team to include culturally congruent researchers, some of whom had an innate trust and understanding of the social norms and values within the community as they were raised a few blocks away from the Latina Center. Velazquez states, “Our close partnership with the community organization, as well as having ‘insider researchers,’ who came from the community being affected, resulted in more rigorous and effective research”.  The success of this research in supporting community efforts is demonstrated through the Latina Center using the results of the PASITO study to advocate for safer sidewalks and more parks in their neighborhood to increase community exercise opportunities. This is the transformational change community-engaged research can lead to!

Edgar presented his research at a faculty networking event called “In the Mix 2019”, a cross-institutional collaboration between UCSF and SF State. The theme for this particular 4th annual event revolved around Community Engaged Research.  Edgar and ICCE Faculty Director, Dr. Nina Roberts, had the opportunity to speak about what community-engaged research is, why it's important, and to give examples of how they've successfully engaged communities in research. Faculty and staff in attendance expressed great appreciation for their presentations.

As for his future plans, Velazquez will be starting medical school this summer, 2019, at UC Davis. His goal is to be a community physician that understands the assets, struggles, and values of his community and contribute to bridging the gap between academic research, health policy, and medical practice to improve public health.  ICCE wishes him the best of luck.

Faculty Engaged Research Highlight:  Dr. Sameer Verma explores various methods of digital access worldwide

Modern-day access to information is predicated on the access to a digital infrastructure.  However, access to the Internet remains elusive for almost half of the world's population, let alone a sustainable access in one’s local language, local context, and relating to local culture. Dr. Sameer Verma, professor, Information Systems department (College of Business) has worked in this space for several years. Most notable is his involvement with One Laptop per Child (OLPC) now in its 12th year. One Laptop per Child’s mission is to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop.  “Making a difference one laptop at a time” appeared in SF State News in 2010 and Dr. Sameer continues to produce great scholarship around this year-after-year.

OLPC designs hardware, content and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning. With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. While Dr. Verma is the founder and organizer of One Laptop per Child, San Francisco volunteer community, he has also worked on projects in Jamaica, Madagascar and India. In all these instances, he has explored various methods of providing digital access to information in schools and libraries, whether these be on the Internet or offline. Dr. Verma has written several research papers based on this community-based project, for example his study of early observations from OLPC was published with co-authors in the a 2016 issue of the Caribbean Journal of Education.

In other projects, which were specifically focused on health information, he has worked with WiRED International, a health information non-profit, founded by SF State Professor Gary Selnow. With WiRED, Dr. Verma has created offline Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems that are currently in use in Peru and Kenya. His students have collaborated in this experience through Independent Study courses and through their Master’s level thesis/culminating experience. He continues to engage students in research and service learning to build solutions for information access around the world. Students feel a sense of belonging and contribution when they see their solutions used in far-reaching places. He is excited to work on two new projects in Ethiopia and Honduras over this spring semester!

Dr. Jae Paik provides International Service Learning Experience in China

Since 2017, Department of Psychology has been providing an exciting international service learning program for their students. Under the leadership of Dr. Jae H. Paik, Professor, each summer a cohort of 14 undergraduates travel to Sichuan Province, China. They engage in various educational and psychological field services for local children, family and teachers including transformative experiences for all involved. Prior to their trip, students complete a semester-long course; they learn to work as a team to deliver curricular and extracurricular activities in real-world service settings. For example, they teach in preK-12 classrooms, mentor younger students, offer family cultural events, and conduct observational assessment of students. 

 During the 4-week trip, students are fully immersed in a social and cultural exchange while providing approximately 80 hours of fieldwork with pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students at schools in Chengdu, China. Students also take courses taught by local Psychology faculty designed to complement and further enrich their cultural and service learning experiences. SFSU students stay on campus at major universities where they gain first-hand experience living and studying alongside Chinese undergraduates. As stated by Dr. Paik:

“Our students are enthralled by the richness of Chinese culture while taking Mandarin Chinese, calligraphy, papercutting, and traditional instrument lessons as well as visiting the Giant Buddha, Panda Research and Breeding Center, museums, temples, and traditional towns. Through all the excitement and challenges of adapting to a new culture while living and collaborating with fellow classmates, our students gain new perspectives and valuable life and intercultural skills that may not be readily available in traditional classroom. Both quantitative and qualitative data analyses examining positive impact the program has on our students and the local communities are well underway. Through continuous collaborations among faculty, student cohorts, and local communities, we hope to refine and improve in providing meaningful and cohesive experience for all.”

Dr. Paik would like to thank all their international collaborators and hosting institutions: International Institute for Chinese Education-Enhancement Research, Southwest University of Science and Technology, and Chengdu College of Arts and Sciences.  For more information, please visit their Study Abroad information page and/or contact the Program Director, Dr. Jae H. Paik at jaepaik@sfsu.edu or x5-0577